Autumn is a time of abundance – mushrooms, hazelnuts, red and orange carrots, potatoes, beets, parsnips, fennel bulbs, apples, squashes, pears, kale, leeks – and eating fresh, local, seasonal food is easy and appealing. Converting to a diet that is predominantly local may appear daunting, however. Who really wants to eliminate the avocados, citrus fruit and chocolate that come to us from sunny climates?
Yet when we explore the origins of our food, we may learn that our choices involve considerable use of fossil fuels through transportation and we may wish to use our dollars on food that is produced closer to home. The push to “eat local” has far less impact on the environment compared with eating lower on the food chain.
At the same time, some fans of eating within a certain radius have not done their homework regarding the production of specific foods. Others are simply marketing groups that fail to tell us the whole story behind the feeding of animals used for meat or milk production.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh did a comprehensive study of the carbon footprint of food. The study was published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal and won the annual award for “Best Paper on Environmental Policy.” Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews discovered that, by eliminating meat just one day per week per year, you would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the same amount as if you reduced your driving by 1,000 miles. Going vegan is the equivalent of driving 8,000 miles less per year.
|Enjoy this hazelnut dip or spread.1 cup shelled hazelnuts|
3/4 cup mushrooms
½ medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch pepperPlace hazelnuts on baking sheet; roast at 350 °F until nuts just start to brown, about 5-10 minutes (or microwave 2 minutes). Sauté chopped mushrooms, onions and garlic in oil until soft. In food processor, process the mushroom mixture. Add hazelnuts, parsley, salt and pepper to mushroom mix and process for a few minutes, scraping down sides. Makes 1 cup.
A central fact that some advocates of eating locally do not grasp is that eating chicken, beef or other animals involves the use of grains and beans that were transported hundreds and thousands of miles (even when they are partly grass-fed). While the cow may have been raised, and even slaughtered, close to where you live, its fodder was transported great distances, using plenty of fossil fuels or other types of energy. And as we know, it takes many pounds of the protein from grains and beans to produce a pound of beef protein.
So if you think that eating local animals or farmed fish is a vote for the environment, think again. Your better choice is to eat locally baked whole grain bread and a steaming bowl of lentil or pea soup, comprised of several ingredients from the Prairies.
Tofu manufactured on Powell Street in Vancouver or in Sooke, BC, involves far fewer transported soybeans than the equivalent weight of meat from a locally raised cow. Furthermore, beyond the feed, cows from the range near Kamloops, BC, may be trucked to feedlots in Alberta to be fattened and killed, with the carcasses later trucked back to BC supermarkets. And can wild fish that swam hundreds of kilometres be considered local when caught within 100 miles? The story can be complex and uncovering the truth may require expert detective work.
Here are a few possibilities to bring you closer to the origins of your food:
- Explore farmers’ markets.
- Seek out community-supported agriculture (e.g. www.ladybugorganics.com).
- Take a weekend country drive to discover farm gate sales.
- Start a backyard or balcony garden; plant herbs on the windowsill.
- Grow garlic, kale, mustard greens, turnips, cabbage, spinach and Swiss chard outdoors well into winter. A hotbox or greenhouse allows plants to flourish in colder weather.
- Walk around your neighbourhood to find community gardens.
- Choose local produce at supermarkets and request that they buy locally.
- Buy seasonal foods in bulk and preserve or freeze.
Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian and author of a number of nutrition classics, including Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Raising Vegetarian Children and the Food Allergy Survival Guide. To book a personal consultation with Vesanto in Langley, call 604-882-6782 .www.nutrispeak.com